As U.S. casualties have continued to drop, many people on the anti-Bush side of the aisle have begun to quietly panic in recent days over this question: "Could George W. Bush and Frederick Kagan have possibly been right about the surge?"
Simply put, the answer is no. The surge is not working and George W. Bush and Frederick Kagan were not right. Despite what right-wing blogs are saying, and despite what conservative observers are noting, the plunge in violence is actually the result of an Iraqi political decision made by and implemented by Iraqis—and the drop has little to do with the "surge"—an infusion of 30,000 troops (which wouldn’t fill a Major League stadium) into Baghdad, a city of six million people........
The "Shiite militants" described by the New York Times were, in fact, members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. And, as we all saw this past summer, Muqtada’s fighters were really doing a job on American forces—despite the troop increase which began earlier in the year.
That was on August 7th. And remember, this was during a summer throughout which we were bombarded with news of Iranian/Shia efforts to kill Americans and destabilize the Iraqi government.
Then, barely three weeks after the New York Times article ran, 50 Muslim pilgrims were slaughtered in sectarian fighting in Karbala. In response, Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he had
ordered his militia to suspend offensive operations for six months.
No one saw this coming.
That would surprise the many of us who watched the kinetic battle from Spring through Summer and me who was wearing himself out doing the dead tango dance as we racked up huge numbers of enemy KIA and the groups of thugs that remained began splintering in smaller bunches or giving up the game. Plus the Surge is a misnomer.
The Surge is not our strategy and he is correct that it is not responsible for the tremendous success in Baghdad, the surrounding belts, Al Anbar, Diyala and now even in some of the Shia tribal areas as well. Our strategy is Counter-Insurgency (COIN) and the additional troops, known as the Surge, are simply part of that effort along with every other military member and civilian over there. Read LTC Kilcullen for an elegant primer on COIN in the Small Wars Journal.
COIN is completely different than the nation-building and national institution-building that we had been doing since toppling Saddam and up until the beginning of this year. We had hunkered down on the FOBs heading out on patrols and then back inside the wire. Now we cleared areas and then stayed and lived side by side with the Iraqis, and once they saw that we were staying they "awakened" and determined that al Qaeda brought death and destruction and the Americans brought electricity and water, not to mention security.
Friedman's main point is that it was Sadr's announcement of a 6 month cease fire that is responsible for all this peace breaking out, not the Surge. Well I explained that the Surge is a straw target, and while Mookie's announcement was a net positive, let's look at why he did it. Once we began shining a bright light on the fact that Iran was responsible for a good bit of the slaughter in Iraq, they had to start being a little cautious. They talk a big game, but they don't want to be caught in any particularly heinous casus belli, since they know W has an itchy trigger finger.
Sadr's and the other Shia militia served a purpose when Iran was working hard to cause an outright civil war that would eject us from the country. Unfortunately for them we managed to shift fire and engage in COIN before they managed to get a hot war going. Sadr announced his cease fire in August after thousands of his thugs and every other flavor of scumbag in Iraq began dying in bunches. We began offensive operations in many places we had simply left to fester before and many brave and foolish gunmen became dead tangos. Hurrah!
Sadr's coalition of thugs was unraveling as we scarfed up bad guys and they ratted out their buddies. He had no effective control left of the organization and his handlers in Teheran were not about to prop up a deranged, discredited, increasingly irrelevant, serial loser. His message was more of an attempt to retain some semblance of power in a situation where he no longer actually had much.
We killed thousands of Shia militia, Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists over the six months leading up to Mookie's capitulation and the cascade of intelligence gathered and areas cleared led to more tips about bad guys and fewer rat holes. It has gotten pretty tough for a terrorist to find a good place to hang out. Every police precinct staffed by Concerned Citizens we stand up is one more place the bad guys can't go. Plus the Iraqis are increasingly doing the standing up themselves.
No one wants an iron boot or sandal on their neck and as we stood with the Iraqis they have thrown off the attempted imposition of an Islamist paradise and new capital of the Caliphate. We and they have dealt a crushing defeat to al Qaeda in Iraq and everywhere else. They sent their best to the big battle with the Great Satan and all they have to show for it is a horrendous toll of Muslims they slaughtered and a long list of dead tangos for me to rejoice about.
We and the Iraqis have also effectively derailed Iran's cunning plan to dominate Iraq via Shia political parties & militias. There are plenty of Shia who want absolutely no part of being an Iranian puppet and they are experiencing their own awakening. That doesn't mean that Iran is neutralized, but it does mean they didn't get the civil war they were working for. Sadr's cease fire was a direct result of the success of our COIN operations and his ability to cause major disruptions is mostly eliminated.
Mr. Friedman served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, although apparently not since 2003, I commend his service. But his analysis of this situation is fundamentally flawed and almost requires that he has willfully suspended rational observation. It is fine to argue that Sadr's action played a role in our current success, it did. But it is folly to say that it was a major or in this case, the major cause of it. It is very enjoyable to watch the squirming and backsliding the left is already having to do when faced with the reality that we are winning.
What is the pro-defeat position in victory anyhow?